It’s believed that there are over 5,000 unique tartans in existence, with the number increasing yearly. The iconic checked fabric is synonymous with the Highlands of Scotland, where it was, and remains, a traditional symbol of clan kinship. The earliest surviving examples date back to the 16th century, yet the cloth remains present in contemporary fashion and popular culture, with Viviane Westwood and Alexander McQueen immediately springing to mind. Now, V&A Dundee presents an exhibition of more than 300 timeless objects, tapping into the fabric’s enduring appeal and rebellious spirit. Co-Curator James Wylie speaks to Aesthetica about what makes the fabric so special, and what to expect from the show.
“Tartan is a cloth crammed with contradiction,” Wylie explains. “This extends to its fundamental construction, where the more colours added subdue the pattern’s overall effect. It is simultaneously traditional and transgressive – capable of elevating or suppressing its wearer. Our current understanding of tartan has become heavily obfuscated by history and myth, which is integral to its allure. V&A Dundee traces our enduring fascination with this Highland craft turned mass-produced superbrand, now ever-present on the soundstages of Hollywood and the streets of Harajuku. It can be reinvented with a near infinite number of possible pattern combinations, and has links to family, politics and royalty. We present a space that explodes tartan’s grids, and opportunities to be inspired by this now global textile.”
1. adidas Originals by Wales Bonner, Spring Summer 2021. Photo by Jeano Edwards. From Tartan at V&A Dundee.
2. Cheddar Gorgeous in a suit designed by Liquorice Black. From Tartan at V&A Dundee.